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CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE | Rides | Tested

You don’t need a big bike and superior skills to have amazing adventures, you just need to be willing

“Dalgety pub is only half an hour down the road, or do you reckon we can make it?” I asked travelling buddy Andy, hopeful he’d concede that the idea of an open fire, a pub meal and a bottle of red wine was far more desirable than what we were about to tackle.

With only a handful of cryptic notes scrawled on a couple of bits of paper, and with 700km already under our belts after leaving Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula some 10 hours earlier,
our task was to now locate a secluded hut on the remote banks of the Snowy River in southern New South Wales.

“No, I reckon we can piece it together,” Andy responded. And with that, I took a deep breath, tapped him on the shoulder and replied, “Righto, I’m with you. Let’s do it.”

I lifted the bike back off the stand and clicked it into gear. The night before’s phone call from Sam kept running through my mind: “Watch out for wallabies … there’s a downhill 90-degree right-hander that’s a bit dodgy … it’s often swampy there, walk it first … the causeway’s the really gnarly bit … careful of the tree roots when you get to the third gate … put your front wheel in a rut and leave it there … you’ll be right – think of the adventure!”

A bloody adventure alright. The thing was, it was approaching six o’clock in the evening and we were losing light fast. The temperature had just dipped into single figures and, even if we did manage to find this bloody hut unscathed, we then needed to find a key, get inside and get a fire lit because, without electricity, it was to provide our warmth, light and our dinner.

I’d just dismounted the bike for the third time to turn around after taking yet another wrong turn. The Benelli TRK502 might be learner approved, but it’s a big bike that, with my fully loaded aluminium panniers, weighs somewhere around 250kg.

“Hang on, Andy!” I remembered something else Sam said when he rang to give me directions on how to find the hut. “He said there’ll be a pink house on your left. Look, there’s the pink house.”

I was worn out, and glad I’d realised we were on the right track before I had to muscle a bike that was getting heavier and heavier by the minute into another 10-point turn.

But, of course, by having the pink house on
our left, it meant that any one of the number of bush tracks darting off to our right could be the correct one.

“He said there’d be a gate and to follow the fence line.” We looked up towards the small pool of light Andy’s V-Strom 650 XT was throwing into the now almost darkness and saw a couple of gates, maybe three. My left foot, which was supporting my bike, began to shake; partly because I was buggered and partly because it was bloody cold and it could have been a full minute before one of us spoke.

“Show me those notes again,” Andy said, and as he got off his bike to walk around in front of his headlight, I rested the chin bar of my helmet on the tank and closed my eyes.

“Think of the adventure!” I heard Sam saying inside my helmet as Andy tried to make sense of my rushed, hand-written directions.

I was now on my fourth 10-point turnaround. I was cold, tired, hungry and cranky. I’m all for adventures, really I am, but I’d been riding for 10 hours, I’m not entirely comfortable riding heavy bikes with 17-inch cast wheels off-road, let alone in the dark, and not through swamps, causeways, tree roots and ruts.

I was back on the bike facing the direction we’d just come from and Andy was hunched over his ’bar-mounted smartphone poring over a map, I could see it reflected in his visor, the only light in what was now an inky black night illuminating his narrowing eyes.

He lifted his head, looked over at me and said, calmly: “This smells like Dettol.”

That was day one of what was meant to be a three-day ride, but which ended up stretching out to five. A trip on which I finally understood the key to true adventure. Adventure doesn’t have to be about your narrow 21-inch front wheel forging a rut through rarely trodden tracks. Adventure, as I would come to understand on what finished up being a 2000km strop through the southeast corner of this remarkable country, is as simple as saying “yes”.

Are you happy to give it a whirl? Righto. Do you think we can make it safely through that causeway? I reckon we can. This road looks awesome on the map, but we’ll need another day to be able to add it, can you do it? Yes.

And I came to understand it because there were times when I didn’t want to give it a bloody whirl, I wanted to get off and let someone else do it for me. And I didn’t know if I was gonna make it safely through that causeway, but what was the worst thing that could happen? And adding another day to the trip meant I was going to miss my brother’s birthday dinner – but he was up for plenty more birthdays and who knew if I’d ever have the opportunity to cross the Murray River on a little vehicle punt again, and the roads on the other side were worth it.

Sam had left Sydney at 3pm for his 500km dash south on Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 to meet us and, while we had far more kays to cover, his were far more uncomfortable with darkness and driving rain his only travelling companions.

Lady Luck helped us get a message through to him that we’d aborted our navigational pickle in favour for the warmth and inebriant of Buckley’s Crossing Hotel and, while Sam was quick to call us names, he was quietly pleased he didn’t have to head into the hut on his Pat Malone. And, when we saw the following day what would have awaited us had we chosen the correct gate (turns out we were nowhere near it), I was glad we didn’t either.

Given the fact I was on a largely inappropriate machine, navigating our way to the hut next morning was, hands down, the gnarliest riding I’ve done. The smallest of the three riders, I was riding the largest and heaviest bike. Sam and Andy had the benefit of wire-spoked, 19-inch front wheels, and every time Sam put his bike on the stand and ran over to see if I needed a hand, I’d say, “I’m going to give it a go,” even when most of the time I really didn’t want to.

By the time we finally reached the hut later that day, I was sweating. I had achieved things on a motorcycle that I otherwise wouldn’t have; my heart had raced, but I trusted my ability. At times I’d held my breath, shut my eyes, opened the throttle and just hoped for the best. Remarkably, it worked. I’d bounced over roots, between rocks and through ruts, and somehow found myself still rolling at the other end. Because I’d said yes. Motorcycling is a head game for many of us. The difference between knowing what can be done and believing you can do it can seem like a cavernous divide and hard to overcome. That first night, when I was following Andy (in body, but in spirit I was by an open fire with a glass of wine), I encountered sections I found really difficult. But two days later, after I’d made it in unassisted and made it back out the same (this time with a ferocious hangover), I approached the so-called difficult bits and chuckled in my helmet at their relative insignificance.

As we hit the highway, we waved Sam off as he headed north towards home. I didn’t know it at the time, but the adventure was just beginning for me and Andy. As an old-hand adventurer, there are not many beaut motorcycling roads – sealed, dirt or otherwise – Andy doesn’t know in this part of the world, and it’s knowledge I would spend the next few days benefitting
from enormously.

Because I had said yes to an extra couple of days away, it meant I would discover some of the gems of the Gippsland and northeastern regions of Victoria. Roads so great and so picturesque that I was forever battling whether to put my head up and take it all in, or put my head down and find the zone on top of smooth, fast and car-free roads. 

Five days after waving goodbye to the family, I rolled into my driveway thoroughly exhausted, wide-eyed with exploration, and bristling with accomplishment.

Yep, adventure can be about big-bore off-road monstrosities busting through the scrub in skillful eruptions of power slides and airborne antics, but it doesn’t have to be.   

Adventure is whatever you want it to be. It’s about being so cold there’s nothing better than finding a pool of warm sun. It’s about being held up in traffic leaving the rat-race to get lost in the flow of speed in the kay-drenched days to follow. It’s being flogged at pool only to revel in the thwack of an ivory ball against the back of a pocket. It’s weary bones and tired muscles, it’s bug-covered fairings and mud-covered swingarms, it’s cracking up laughing, hideous hangovers, songs sung loudly in helmets and,
for the lucky, it’s about missing home.

Between now and next year’s adventure issue, I urge you to saddle up and set off and push yourself outside of your boundaries of comfort. Not in a dangerous way – in an adventurous way. Do things you’d otherwise not. Go places you otherwise wouldn’t. Learn skills you wouldn’t think you’d need. Go and give it a whirl. You and the people around you will be better off for it.

Choose life. Say yes. Choose your own adventure.